More optimism about Chinese buyers purchasing overseas:
Welcome to ground zero for the world’s largest cross-border residential property boom. Motivated by a weakening yuan, surging domestic housing costs and the desire to secure offshore footholds, Chinese citizens are snapping up overseas homes at an accelerating pace. They’re also venturing further afield than ever before, spreading beyond the likes of Sydney and Vancouver to lower-priced markets including Houston, Thailand’s Pattaya Beach and Malaysia’s Johor Bahru.
The buying spree has defied Chinese government efforts to restrict capital outflows and shows little sign of slowing after an estimated $15 billion of overseas real estate purchases in the first half. For cities in the cross-hairs, the challenge is to balance the economic benefits of Chinese demand against the risk that rising home prices spur a public backlash.
“The Chinese have managed to accumulate very large amounts of wealth, and the opportunities to deploy that capital in their own market are somewhat restricted,” said Richard Barkham, the London-based chief global economist at CBRE Group Inc., the world’s largest commercial property brokerage. “China has more than a billion people. Personally, I think we have just seen a trickle.”
“Properties in Shanghai are ridiculously expensive,” Chen Feng, 38, said as he evaluated prospects at a property fair in Shanghai in September, lured by television commercials for the event the night before. “With the amount of money it takes to buy a small apartment here, I can buy a building of apartments in many places in the world.”
That line of reasoning is nothing new, of course. Sydney, Vancouver, Hong Kong, London and a handful of other cities have long been popular destinations for Chinese buyers.
The difference now is that those traditional hotspots are starting to lose their appeal, due to soaring prices and new measures to deter an influx of overseas money. In Hong Kong, the government enacted a 30 percent tax on foreign property owners this month after Chinese demand pushed home values toward record highs.
Chinese buyers have responded by branching out to cheaper cities. In the U.S., they’re increasingly searching for properties in Houston, Orlando and Seattle, which displaced San Francisco in the first quarter as the third-most viewed U.S. market on Juwai.com, a Chinese search engine for offshore real estate.
At the national level, countries in Southeast Asia have grown more popular. Juwai.com’s queries on Thailand are surging at a 72 percent annual rate, helping it surpass Britain as one of the top five most-targeted destinations worldwide earlier this year.
This year’s purchases could be just be the tip of the iceberg. Chinese holdings of global real estate, including commercial properties, will probably swell to $220 billion by 2020 from $80 billion in 2015, according to Juwai.com.
As the first generation born after China’s opening in the late 1970s approaches middle age, many of them want an overseas base for family members to travel, study and work. Chinese parents with children at foreign schools have been a major source of demand, accounting for an estimated 45 percent of cross-border buying, according to Fang Holdings.
Zha Liangliang, a 31-year-old owner of commercial wheat farms in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, said he purchased a $587,000 apartment in Sydney in August and plans to add five more before sending his children to high school in Australia. He’s flying to the country this month to view homes and farmland, hoping to buy before the yuan weakens any further.
For some investors, it’s never too early to pull the trigger. Richard Baumert, a partner at Millennium Partners Boston, tells the story of a 33-year-old Chinese man who purchased a luxury home for his future children in August, convinced they’re destined to attend one of the city’s prestigious universities.
The buyer shelled out $2.4 million for the property, Baumert said, unfazed by the fact that he’s single and it could be two decades before he has kids old enough for college.